The traditional religions of the Maya, in which astrology and ancestor worship both played a role, were based on a system of beliefs that included the world, the heavens, and an unseen underworld called Xibalba. When Spanish missionaries introduced Catholicism to their regions, the Maya tended to add it onto their existing religion, creating a unique brand of "folk Catholicism."
Ancient Mayan Religion
Hunab Ku was the creator god and various other gods were responsible for forces of nature, such as Chac, the rain god.
Mayan rulers were considered to be divine and traced their geneologies back to prove their descendence from the gods. Mayan religious ceremonies included the ball game, human sacrifice and blood-letting ceremonies in which nobles pierced their tongues or genitals to shed blood as an offering to the gods.
Every 20th day, there was a religious festival. Priests would climb the pyramid steps, dressed in fierce masks, to please the gods. Wearing huge headdresses, Maya dancers performed in front of the Pyramid or the Temple or both.
Their traditional gods that belonged to the natural world, such as corn, rain, and the sun, became associated with Christian saints, and various rituals and festivals were transmuted into forms approved by the church.
Ancient Mayan Performaces during Festivals
Dances followed a calendar, and ranged from performances with humor and tricks to dances in preparation for war and dances mimicking (and sometimes including) sacrificial events. During the colonial period, thousands of people came from all around northern Yucatán to see and participate in the dances. The players of patollit visited some mayan festivals with a rolled out mat under their arms and perforated grains linked by a thread.
During the festivals, there were human and animal sacrifices. Not all sacrifices ended in death. The Mayas communicated with their gods by bloodletting, tribute, and worship.
Ancient Mayan Plazas
The plazas held thousands of people; Inomata reckons that for the smaller communities, nearly the entire population could be present at once in the central plaza. But at sites such as Tikal and Caracol, where over 50,000 people lived, the central plazas could not hold so many people. The history of these cities as traced by Inomata suggests that as the cities grew, their rulers made accommodations for the growing populations, tearing down buildings, commissioning new structures, adding causeways and building plazas exterior to the central city.
Hanal Pixan, an ancient Mayan tradition, otherwise known as 'supper of the souls', has been celebrated in Mexico since Prehispanic times. It is celebrated as day of the dead. Each region has a different way of praising their ancestors through rituals and ceremonies.